A review of Keith Thomas Walker’s ‘Dripping Chocolate’

December 29, 2012 

Dripping ChocolatKeith Thomas Walker’s Dripping Chocolate is a romantic tale with an urban twist.  The characters are not your usual upper crust lovers living fantastic lives in ideal settings coping with a complex complicated love.  The characters are true to form working class single parents making it in the world.  Nicole, a mother of three, works in a call center where her coworker girlfriends make up her supportive social circle.  Charles Dwayne Hester is only months out of the joint taking on the challenges of an ex-con seeking employment while resisting the street’s lucrative drug hustle.  Determined to go “legit” Charles is forced to rely on his money making assets, a handsome face and a well endowed muscular body.  Charles is reluctantly drawn into stripping because of his desire to be a good father and the responsibility of two kids and twice the baby mama drama.

The story opens with Nicole—not without her own baby daddy drama–coming to the realization that her recent relationship with Byron isn’t working.  He’s controlling and jealous and as advised by her girlfriends potentially dangerous.  She breaks it off but Byron can’t seem to take go for an answer.  To celebrate her 29th birthday girlfriends treat Nicole to a night out at Peeping Jane, a male strip club.  Nicole shuns the idea of male strippers.  Exciting and easy on the eyes she considers them undesirable and full of no class baggage.

Enters Dripping Chocolate his first night on the job stripping; learning the ropes and making plenty of money.  Nicole gets a special dance and the encounter remains engrained in her memory.  Shortly thereafter she bumps into Dripping Chocolate aka Charles at the Walmart while both are shopping for their respective sons.  Her new perception of Dripping Chocolate as a responsible father dramatically changes Nicole’s first impression.

With cold feet she resists his overtures while considering her girlfriends’ conflicting advice.  Nevertheless she dives into irresistible waters, but soon finds swimming in the budding romance a challenge.  The plot thickens with heightened conflict when Charles’ stripping becomes the elephant in room.

Conflict is the key to Keith Thomas Walker’s string of successful novels.  The author is a master of what literary agent Donald Maass calls micro-tension, the literary device designed to keep readers turning pages.  While Dripping Chocolate is a romance it’s no fantasy dream but chocked with common real life urban struggles.  Through sublime dialogue Walker’s characters jump off the page vivid and real.   In great writing the plot is layered with conflicting relationships taken to dramatic heights.  I highly recommend Dripping Chocolate.

You can listen to my in depth interview with the author on my blog EditorialIndependence.com.


Book clubs take on a dynamic function for independent publishers

October 23, 2012 

Norwood and the Classie Bookies Book Club

I recently attended The Reading Divas Black Authors and Readers Rock Weekend an event bringing together writers and book clubs. As a writer I had the opportunity to introduce myself and my works to hundreds of new readers. It was also an opportunity to network with other authors and share marketing strategies.The participating clubs came from both near and afar with snappy names like Just Us, Sugar and Spice, Nooks, Books and Friends, and Body and Soul. Book clubs are no longer just readers coming together to discuss popular literature, but now take on a more dynamic function within the publishing industry. The decline of brick and mortar bookstores, offering popular book signing venues where fans met their authors, are being alternatively replaced with the intimate book club setting serving as an increasingly important marketing and distribution channel.

The weekend began with a Friday night reception and open club meeting featuring a discussion led by Karen Quiones Miller of her new book An Angry Ass Black Woman and a reading by the popular legal thriller author Pamela Samuels Young from her new novel Attorney-Client Privilege.  The program was standing room only as were the four Saturday morning workshops and panel discussions which included:  Is Urban Lit Really Literature, So You Wanna Write, What Impact has the Ebook had on Black Publishing, and How to Start, Improve and Get the Most Out of Your Book Club.  All in fun there were raffles for attendees and a fashion contest for the best dressed club.  Select clubs paraded through the banquet hall donning identifying distinctive outfits from custom tops and scarves to cable stitch sweaters.

The event highlight came when keynote speaker New York Times best selling author Mary Malone took the floor sharing her remarkable writing journey entertaining her spellbound audience with her compelling biography.  Her first novel, The Upper Room was published by St. Martin’s Press in 1985. She is best known for her novel, God Don’t Like Ugly  (originally published by Dafina Books in the fall of 2000), and the series revolved around the characters first introduced in this book. Her latest is God Don’t Make No Mistakes.

Pamela Samuel Young told how through a book club appearance she landed a guest spot on the The Monique Show.  Many authors appreciate that one on one face time with their readers many of whom do not hold back on their criticism.  The authors and guest book club members frequently expressed how valuable they found the event praising the The Reading Divas.  Many are looking forwarding to next year’s event expecting it be an even bigger and better event.

TaNIsha Webb author of The Ultimate Book Club Experience and founder the Book Club University is a great source for both authors and book clubs.

A conversation with Keith Thomas Walker

September 7, 2012 

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[You can listen to this interview by going to this link Keith Thomas Walker.]

Keith Thomas Walker works as a hospital administrator in Fort Worth.  His coworkers were shocked to discover him moonlighting as a romance author.  He’s married with two children and at last count Keith Thomas Walker has published 10 books.  I emphasize published because he has a sizeable unpublished repertoire.  He’s been writing since 4th grade with obviously life long aspirations for the written word.  He currently writes romantic suspense and urban fiction.  Keith Walker insists that he does not write street fiction which begs an explanation since urban fiction and street literature are often used synonymously. I read two of his latest books, Jewell and the Dapper Dan and Harlot.  Both are phenomenal reads racking up 5 star reviews.

At the recent Romance Slam Jam, a gathering African American in Little Rock I noticed Keith was doing a very brisk business at his signing table, more than some of the older more established writes.  I was curious about his popularity and reading his book it became clear.  Keith Thomas Walker is a writer of exceptional talent.  Keith thanks for joining me.

Keith Walker:            Thanks for that awesome introduction.

Norwood:                   It’s nothing but the truth.  Keith, give us a sense of what you write.  I think the titles alone are very revealing.  So give me a rundown of some of your books.

Keith Walker:          The first book I wrote was Fixin’ Tyrone.  That was a romance novel based on a guy named Tyrone, who was getting out of prison, and he wanted to re-establish a relationship with the mother of his children.  It was written 100% from her perspective; her name is Mia, and she wanted absolutely nothing to do with Tyrone initially.  Tyrone was pretty much the cause of a lot of troubles in her life, and he went to prison and left her with her child.  She pretty much moved on from those types of individuals.  So the title for that one comes into play with the idea of fixing a man — is it possible to fix a man?  That was the overall theme of that book — could Mia help Tyrone become the man that she needed him to be — if she were to take him seriously to being with.  I don’t want to spoil the ending.

Then I wrote, my second books was How To Kill Your Husband.  That title is actually, it could go both ways — some women are excited to see it, and some women are actually turned off by it.  They tell me, oh, I don’t want to kill my husband, and things like that.  That’s a shame, because that’s an excellent book.  It’s about a woman who’s been married for 16 years, and she suspects her husband is cheating on her.  So she gets with her friends, because she has two great friends in the book, and they try to figure out the mystery, they do a lot of detective work.  Her friends are what really drive the book, because they’re hilarious and they’re really in her corner.  Again, I won’t spoil the ending if she kills her husband or not.

Norwood:                   Please make it clear that this is not a how-to book.

Keith Walker:          No, it’s not a how-to book, and I think that’s what confuses some of the readers who are turned off by the title, because they think that I’m giving an instructional manual on how to go about killing your husband, when it’s not that type of story at all.  It’s a really heartfelt story.  It was marketed as a romance; but technically, it’s not a romance novel, although she does have another love interest in the story.

You know, I’ve written a lot of books:  A Good Dude, Riding the Corporate Ladder, Blow by Blow, The Finley Sisters’ Oath of Romance, Jewell and the Dapper Dan.  And Dripping Chocolate is coming in November.


Norwood:                   Okay.  Dripping Chocolate is the one I’m waiting for.  I want to go back a second.  Are you independently published or are you under contract?  I notice you market under the imprint Keith Walker Books.

Keith Walker:          Well, my website is KeithWalkerBooks.com, and that’s been the website I had when I published my first book.  My first six books, from Fixin’ Tyrone through Harlot were actually published by a publishing company, Genesis Press.  After that sixth book, I learned a lot about the industry, and I felt I could take it on my own.  So yeah, the rest of my books are published by Keith Walker Books, which is now a company and a publishing company.  I print my own books, I do the whole nine yards.

Norwood:                   Great, it sounds like you’re doing well also.

Keith Walker:          Jewell and the Dapper Dan was the first release from Keith Walker Books, and that was a book that my publisher wasn’t interested in because of the violent aspects to it.  I always knew that that was a great book, because a lot of my readers who look at my rough drafts — that was one of their favorites.  There was actually about half of them who considered that one their favorite.  So I always knew Jewell and the Dapper Dan had to get published.

Norwood:                   Well, of the two I have read, Jewell and the Dapper Dan is my favorite.

Keith Walker:          I loved it.

Norwood:                   I want to talk about Jewell, and I also want to talk about Shayla, who is the character in Harlot.  I’m just amazed at how you draw these true-to-form women, and they’re clearly identifiable, they have strong characters; while, Jewell is more like a gangster moll, Shayla is like a preacher’s kid.  Shayla kind of turns me off because I see her more as a misandrist.  She impresses me as a woman who hates men and she uses men.

Keith Walker:          Yeah, Shayla’s definitely an unlikeable character initially and pretty much throughout the book.  Whether she gets redeemed at the end, I guess that’s up to the reader to decide.  That’s a challenge writing about a character that not necessarily likeable for the reader, or someone the reader could possibly relate to; because Shayla has issues and they stem from her past being a preacher’s daughter, but also from the affair she witnessed her father having.  So Shayla, she is misogynist.  Well, is that the same for men and women?

Norwood:                   In hating the opposite sex, men are misogynists, and women are misandrists.

Keith Walker:          Okay, well she has issues with men and she takes it out on quite a few of them.  She feels like she’s got a vendetta against a particular type of men, in particular; yes, she goes through the whole book trying to destroy these men.  From a man’s point of view, I can definitely see how that could be a troubling read.

Norwood:                   Yeah, she’s an evil character — unlike Jewell.

Keith Walker:          That’s the thing, because Jewell is actually the worst of the two if you look at their lifestyle; but yet, Jewell’s a more likeable character.

Norwood:                   Yes, she’s the more evil one.

Keith Walker:          Well, she didn’t want to be evil; but yeah, she did do a lot of evil things.  She had that conflict.  I think that was the thing that helped Jewell, because she really didn’t — towards the end after she had a revelation, she didn’t want to be the same person she was.  She actually had that conversation with Daniel, that she didn’t want to be evil; and he said, that’s what we are — that didn’t sit right with her.  Yeah, Jewell, she definitely had redeeming characteristics.

Norwood:                   So you write from a woman’s perspective with a woman’s voice.

Keith Walker:          Generally.  I do switch it up now and then.  With Blow by Blow, I think it was mostly from the woman’s perspective; but the main character, he was a boxer, and I did a few scenes and chapters strictly from his perspective.  And with Dripping Chocolate, it’s pretty much half and half.  So I think, I’m not sure why, but as I progressed as a writer, I decided that more points of view would be a better thing.

Norwood:                   Well, I’m curious because your depictions are so faithful.  I figured you must be a keen observer of women.

Keith Walker:          That’s definitely the truth.  I always, at all times — women, they’re just interesting creatures.  When they walk in a room, they demand attention and respect.  Me, I’m just going to observe her period.  I always watch, and I always listen more than I talk.  So yeah, I pick up on a lot.

Norwood:                   I thought that was very interesting.  And having met you, and the first thing I noticed about you is that you sort of stand back, an observer, you’re very unassuming, which really surprised me when I started reading your book.  I said, oh, well, there’s a lot going on in this dude’s head, you know?

Keith Walker:          I get that work a lot, because I work at a hospital and I talk to a lot of people all the time.  When I started reading, they were totally shocked at the fact that I was writing period, and also what they were reading because they never saw it in me.  But I’m not one to go around boasting.  I just play my part — listen, observe.  When it comes time for me to interact with my readers, I really do shine when those moments come.

Norwood:                   Not only do you shine with your writers, but also you have two different personalities:  There’s the guy who stands back and watches, and I picked up on your YouTube channel — you can be pretty silly.

Keith Walker:          Yeah, I can be.

Norwood:                   Dancing with your mother, I saw that one.  Then there’s one where you’re doing these thoughts.  You’re not all serious business, there are a lot of different facets to your own personality.

Keith Walker:          I would say for the most part, at least 80% of the time, I am serious business; but when that 20% comes, I let my hair down all the way.  But for the most part, yeah, I am pretty serious.

Norwood:                   Okay.  And you are a romance writer; what drew you to that genre?  I mean, I know why I write in that genre, because to me, that’s where the money is.

Keith Walker:          Right.  Honestly, it wasn’t a decision I made initially, because when I first started writing, I just wanted to write urban fiction, and not street lit — definitely not street lit.  Just the urban fiction book, kind of like Walter Mosley and Walter Dean Myers and people like that.  But that stuff was hard to get out the door, and I’d only written one book, but I found it hard to publish it.

I started writing short stories after that, because urban fiction was the only thing I had written, so I wrote a series of short stories, just trying to broaden my horizons.  One of the short stories I wrote was a romance story, and I let a lot of people read these stories, and the romance story was the one that drew the most attention.  Quite a few people encouraged me to write a romance novel.  Even though I’d never considered it, I wrote Fixin’ Tyrone, and it just took off from there.  I sent it to publishers, and immediately they were wanting the book, so I knew I hit on something there.

But the thing I always stress is, even though I do write romance novels, there’s still a lot of things I want to say.  I have a voice, and there’s a lot of social things I want to bring up.  So I still found a way to bring these things into the romance novels.  So I don’t feel like I’m compromising my goals because I’m still doing the things I want to do, but I’m also doing it within the parameters of a love story — but that works for me.

Norwood:                   Well, I do think you write with a message.  But now I want to get to that point about street lit, and you say you don’t write street lit, but you do write urban fiction.  Now, according to Wikipedia, those two are synonymous; but I there is a gradation between the meanings of the two.

Keith Walker:          I have anything against street lit or writers who write street lit, I just don’t want to be put in that category.  I guess the reasons for that would be the flaws that I find in street lit.  It’s kind of a touchy subject, because if I go into this, it’ll come out — well, he doesn’t like street lit, and he doesn’t like street lit authors; but it’s not all of them, it’s just some of them.

Norwood:                   I see understand, and I would like to make clear — street lit and urban fiction are not synonymous.  Street lit is usually — it lacks the quality that you find in urban writers.  Street lit, it’s usually produced by an untrained writer.

Keith Walker:          The thing with street lit is that, in my opinion, almost the majority of them don’t pay attention to certain things.

Norwood:                   Well, it glorifies the wrong things.

Keith Walker:          It glorifies violence for sure, it glorious the sex.  The sex isn’t romantic, it’s just sex.  They don’t do a lot of character development, they don’t do a lot of plot.  I mean, it’s just — here’s what I’ve rationalized it as, or here’s what I compare it to:  Women are in a beauty shop, and one woman comes in and says, girl, you should come outside, this girl’s dragging this other girl down the street, she done slept with her baby mama, and they over here fighting, blah, blah, blah.  Every woman in the beauty shop would obviously be interested in that, and most of them would go outside to see it.  That’s kind of what street lit is — it’s interesting, there’s no doubt about it, and it’s violent and it’s vulgar.  It’s all these things that automatically draws your attention, but it’s not necessarily good writing.  That’s why I don’t want to be characterized as that.

Norwood:                   And that’s the point I wanted to clarify.  It’s like the distance between reading the New York Daily Posts and the New York Times.  I think street lit lacks in redeeming value.

Keith Walker:          Yeah, it totally does.

Norwood:                   Okay.  Let’s talk a little bit about your first book, Colored Rags, I read about in one interview that you have a very interesting story about that and how that led to your becoming published.

Keith Walker:          Well, Colored Rags, the first time I wrote that book, I was in college.  I graduated college in 2000, and I believe I wrote that two years before graduation, so I wrote that a long time ago.  At the time, I was doing a lot of poetry — I was mainly a standup poet, I went to poetry slams, and I was really successful with it.  But, poetry is one of those fields where you can’t really get published and make a living doing it.  So I decided to go ahead and write books, because even before the poetry, I’d always written short stories and things of that nature.  All through high school, I won so many contests for writing.

I decided to write my book, and I wrote it about the things I was familiar with, which at the time was bad neighborhood, hoodlums, gang violence, drugs, murders, all of that.  So I wrote the book, Colored Rags, and it was about an individual — it was kind of mirroring things I’d went through.  So it was about a kid that was basically just trying to go to college and be something; but the summer before college, he gets caught up in a lot of gang violence.

That book, I passed around to a lot of people — everyone loved it, but I couldn’t get it published.  I can’t tell you how many rejection letters I got for it, and it hurt my feelings because I felt like it was a good book.  I knew I was a good writer, but I couldn’t get anywhere with that book.  So I don’t know, that depression kind of just — it just took on a depression toward writing in general, and I didn’t try to write another book or story for nine years, until I wrote Fixin’ Tyrone.  It was a long time.

What I learned from that was I was making a mistake in thinking that just because publishers didn’t like this book, it didn’t mean necessarily that I couldn’t make it as a writer.  It meant just what I said, publishers didn’t like this book.  But when I started writing again, there was no way I was going to stop like I did before.  So I wrote Fixin’ Tyrone; as soon as I sent it out, I started another book; as soon as I sent that one out, I started another book.  I just got into this pattern of writing that was going to be totally opposite of what I did before.

In that first year I started writing again, I wrote four books; the year after that, I wrote five books; and the year after that, I wrote four again.  So I was literally on a roll.  A publisher’s only going to publish two books a year regardless of what you write, so that’s why I have feedback a lot of books.  That’s why, now that I’m independent, I can put out four books a year easy, and I can do that for two years and not even write another book.

Norwood:                   Well, now you can focus on marketing and getting the word out there, because it seems to me that you’re probably more popular in your region in the South and on the west side of the nation.

Keith Walker:          The popularity is a thing that I’m still struggling with.  It’s like the readers who do read me, they’re very vocal about how much they appreciate and like the writing.  But I haven’t reached the success — I haven’t had a best seller, but I’m still —

Norwood:                   Well, that was my next question and the suggestion that you go for the Essence Best Seller List.  There’s a way they go about that.

Keith Walker:          I’m thinking Dripping Chocolate‘s going to be the one, because Dripping Chocolate‘s my first full-fledged romance that I’m releasing under my own company.  So this is almost a make it or break it type of deal — not that I’m going to wallow if it doesn’t make it, but I really think Dripping Chocolate‘s going to be the one.

Norwood:                   I tell you, the title just sounds intriguing.

Keith Walker:          Oh yeah, the title’s irresistible.  The thing about that is, this book is far less sexual than the title would make it sound.  I’m not going to spread that word, because women want it to be highly sexual.  But it’s a good book.  It’s about a guy named Charles, he got out of prison, and got into stripping just as a means to go an end; he meets a woman who’s got children, and they have a serious love for each other; he’s trying to do right — so that’s where the conflict comes in.

Norwood:                   What I like about the image of your male characters, they’re always these tall, dark, handsome men who the women seem to fall for.

Keith Walker:          Yeah, no offense to you, but those yellow boys — it’s time for the dark men like me to come.

Norwood:                   I know what you’re doing, and I applaud your efforts.  So, Keith, tell me what’s up next?  I think you’re currently promoting Harlot.

Keith Walker:          I’m promoting Harlot, but I’m also promoting my short story collection, because that short story collection that I told you about is coming out in October.  I’m having a contest where I’m going to allow anybody who wins to have their story published with mine.  That’s going to be an e-book that I’m going to release for .99 cents.  It’s 60,000 words, so that’s a full-fledged book, basically.  So I’m going to release it for .99 cents, I’m still going to have the paperback.  My short story collection is not romance, so that’s the only thing that may pull it down a little bit, but they’re great stories and it’s going to be a great price, so we’ll see how that works out.

After that, Dripping Chocolate.

Norwood:                   Okay, you heard it, folks, Dripping Chocolate, look for it.  To learn more about Keith, you can look him up at:  keithwalkerbooks.com.  Is that right, Keith?

Keith Walker:          Yeah.  Everything is on that site.

Norwood:                   Keith.  I wish we could go on.  I really enjoyed talking to you.  It’s been a pleasure.  I haven’t quite finished Harlot yet.

Keith Walker:          The ending is — you’ll like it.

Norwood:                   Right now Jewell is still my favorite.  There you have it.  Keith Thomas Walker.  Thank you, Keith.

Keith Walker:          Thanks for having me.

A conversation with Beverly Jenkins

September 3, 2012 

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Beverly Jenkins has received numerous awards, including three Walden Booksellers Awards, two Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times magazine, a Golden Pin Award from the Black Writers Guild.  In 1999, Beverly Jenkins was voted one of the top 50 favorite African-American writers of the 20th century by the African American Literature Book Club, the nation’s largest African-American Book Club.

[You can listen to this interview by clicking on this link Beverly Jenkins]

Norwood:   It’s a pleasure to speak with you.  I recently read Night Hawk, and not only did I find it a fascinating and titillating read, but also a lesson in history.  As a sidebar, after meeting you in April, I came home and my aunt who’s a history buff, asked me what I reading.  I recommended that she read Night Hawk.  She went online, downloaded it on her Kindle, and she read Night Hawk, and she has since read everything that she can her hands on.

Beverly Jenkins:    That seems to be a common thing, people get hooked.

Norwood:   It seems as though you’re addictive.

Beverly Jenkins:    I hear good stories.  You get African-American history in a user-friendly kind of a format, and you get a great story.  So what more can you ask for in a body of work or in a book?

Norwood:   Let’s talk about your writing journey.  What was that seminal moment when you decided you wanted to be a writer, or did you always know you wanted to be a romance author?

Beverly Jenkins:    I never wanted to be a writer.  This is something I just sort of stumbled into.  I always knew I could write.  I started out — I tell people I’m a proud product of Detroit public schools.  I was the editor of my elementary school newspaper in the 4th grade, I was 8-9 years old — avid reader all my life.  My only goal was to work in a library.  I loved books — read, read, read, read, read — from a family of readers, my mom, my dad, my sisters, my brothers.

I was working on a story — I was working at the reference desk at what used to be Park Davis Pharmaceuticals in Ann Arbor, and there was a woman there who was a member of the Romance Writers of America.  I showed her my story.  She was trying to get published also.  I wasn’t trying to get published, I was just writing the story for me because there was no real African-American love stories out there at that time.  So I showed this to her, and she says, well, you really need to get this published; and I’m like, yeah, right.

I read everything.  I read romance, I read fiction, non-fiction, I’m a big fantasy reader and lots of non-fiction.  So I hadn’t planned on getting this published, and I didn’t think that I would be published because of the way publishing was structured at that time.

I said to my girlfriend, Laverne, and to make her shut up, I did a little bit of research and ran down Vivian Stephens, who is a big-time editor at Dell back then, she was a big romance editor.  She had gotten out of publishing, and she was doing agenting.  So I sent her my pitiful little excuse for a manuscript, and she called me back at work maybe three or four days later and said that she wanted to represent me.

So submitted it — I got enough rejections probably to paper my house.  Then finally, Ellen Edwards, who was the editor at Avon Romance, which is probably the largest and most successful romance house back then — this was the early ’90s/’94 — said, yes.  So, 30 books later, I’m still with Avon — great editors, great house.

So, that’s sort of the short version of my journey.

Norwood:  You seem to have taken a road that is pretty much compatible with being a writer — you’re well read.  For those who read a lot, writing seems to come naturally.

Beverly Jenkins:    Yeah, I do a lot of writing workshops.  I travel all over the country doing writing workshops, speaking on 19th century African-American history and, of course, romance too.  One of the things that I try and promote among writers is that the person who reads the most books wins; because the more you read, of course, the better your vocabulary, but you also get a sense of voice.  Voice being — for those who are not sure what voice is — is nothing more than how you sound on paper.  You can develop that voice by reading other voices.  It’s a blessed life, it really is a blessed life.

Norwood: It’s only through writing that you come into your own voice.  So, let’s get to historical romances; specifically, African-American historical romances.  Your research — what’s your methodology, how do you go about it?  First of all, you come up with a plot/a story, or does a story grow out of your research?

Beverly Jenkins:    Every book is different.  There’s sometimes no rhyme or reason to why this story, as opposed to that story.

Just to give you some background:  My mom was black before it was fashionable.  I grew up with Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps and Countee Cullen, and all of the great Harlem renaissance writers and poets.  One of my first memories was of her reading me James Weldon Johnson, The Creation.  So, I took that background and I used that to paint my stories.

I like to put my stories where black folks actually walked.  So, you’re going to get the stories of the Great Exodus of 1879, and the founding of those small black townships in Kansas.  You’re going to get stories about Harriet Tubman’s spy group, which a lot of people don’t know that — they know that Harriet helped escaped slaves, but not a lot of people know that she was doing spy work for the Union Army during the Civil War.  You’re going to get stories from me from the black and brown outlaws and lawmen of Indian Territory, because we were in all of those places.

So you take that history, and sometimes it comes through the history, sometimes I’ll run across a character that I’ve come across that I want to put in the story.  For me, usually the story dictates where I go.  I often say that the story doesn’t come from me, as opposed to coming through me (if that makes any sense).  I don’t know where these stories come from, you know.  I say this often — any time I’m watching football, I’m a very avid fan, and a character taps me on the shoulder and says, write my story — like, who are you, get away from me, I’m watching the game.

So I have characters stacked up in my head, like, planes over LaGuardia.  Hopefully, I have enough time in this lifetime to get them all done; if not, maybe the Good Lord will give me a good chance the next time when I come around to finish what I didn’t finish in this life.

Norwood:  I hear you.

Beverly Jenkins:    But history moves me.  History is one of the things I’m most proud of in my writing; because of that history, I’ve gotten to travel all over the country.

Norwood:    Well, it’s a very fertile subject, any number of topics/characters that you can draw on.  Speaking of characters, Maggie Freeman is in my heart.  When I first saw her, I had no problem imagining her to look like Edmonia Lewis — are you familiar?

Beverly Jenkins:    Yes, the sculptress.

Norwood:  They had of similar biographies, only Edmonia Lewis’ father was Caribbean and her mother was Indian and came from Canada.  It occurred to me, there were thousands of women like Edmonia and Maggie.

Beverly Jenkins:    Oh yeah, and their stories have not been told.  I think that’s one of the things that people appreciate about my writing, is that I’m patching up those holes in the quilt for American history.  But in Maggie’s case, she’s sort of based on a woman that I met in Omaha, Nebraska — her name is Maggie Sherman.  Maggie is Kaw Indian, and her dad is black — she’s Native-American on her mom’s side.  I met her at a signing a few years back, and she was just so appreciative because I’d written about Native-American and black women before.  She said, you know, nobody’s writing about me, and I’m so thankful.  She was in tears and I was in tears.

She sent me this great letter about some of her background, and how her grandfather proposed to her mother.  I said, you know, this is a great, great story.  So I named her Maggie, after Maggie Freeman.  I knew nothing about the Kaw Indians; you know, you hear about the Sioux and the Cheyenne, you know, a lot of the plains Indians because of the movies and all that from Hollywood — but you very, very rarely how about many of the small tribes.  The Kaw are what the French and the European settlers called the Kansas Indians.  So just a fascinating history.

Every time I turn around, you know, somebody’s sending me stuff, or I’m meeting somebody with a great background.  It’s all good.

Norwood:   Well, before we get too far into it, can you give the us a brief synopsis of Night Hawk and Maggie Freeman.

Beverly Jenkins:    Night Hawk is — I’m like four books past that book now, so I’ve got to open up the brain and stuff.  Ian Vance, he first showed up in a book called — him and Jesse Rose, back in the mid-’90s.  I call him my gun-toting, Bible-quoting bounty hunter.  He’s a bounty hunter in that first book.  The women seem so taken with him, that for the 10 years after that book was published, I kept getting letters and emails and all that about when is the — he’s called the preacher — when’s the preacher going to get his book.

Finally, he got his book, Night Hawk.  We knew that he was black and Scottish — his father was a black Navy English seaman, and there were many of them, and his mother was a Scottish woman.  Just like sailors all over the world, they leave babies behind, and the black Navy guys, the black English guys were no exception.  There are some who’d say — historians who say that that’s the origination of the word, “black Irish” came from was from these seamen leaving these babies.

So he eventually makes his way to the United States, and he has a degree and he’s a lawyer; of course, at that time in the mid-1860’s, 1870s, 1880s, he is not allowed to practice his craft.  So he comes across another group of my characters who are black Seminoles, and they are train robbers in response to America’s dealing with black Seminoles down on the coast of Mexico and Texas, and they started robbing trains to feed their families.  So he runs into them on a train ride, and winds up hanging with them for a good 8-9 years, robbing trains and doing all that.

He becomes a bounty hunter when his wife is murdered by a different set of gang people, outlaws.  So he is on his way, he’s going to give up being — he’s tired of being a bounty hunter, he’s going back to his ranch in Montana — and on the way, runs into Maggie, who is being arrested for something that she did not do.  He has to escort her from Kansas to jail in Denver.

Their story, as they get to know each other, and she’s wild — I mean, she’s tough, she’s been on her own since age 12 — and the love story that results from that.  I had a great time writing it.

Norwood:    Now, Maggie Freeman is a strong, independent black woman, but what is it about Maggie Freeman that your readers identify with?

Beverly Jenkins:    I think they have a tendency to identify with all of my women.   You know, you’ve got that strength, also the vulnerability; you have that sad story, but you also have the hope that the future will be better, which is, I think, a tenet of our African-American history.  The ancestors did not dwell on the old “woe is me” kind of thing; they just said, okay, well we’ve got these lemons, so let’s make lemonade.  I think Maggie is a very, very good example of that.

I liked her in the sense that she was not your typical — you know, some romance women write, you know, they’re all virgins — some of my women are not.

Norwood:   Well, Maggie’s had a difficult time.

Beverly Jenkins:    If you read my body of work, most of these women have not been coddled.  As Langston Hughes says, “Life is not a crystal stair.”  These women have not had crystal stairs.  That, to me, speaks to the African-American condition of black women coming up in the 19th century.

Norwood:   I think that answers my question — they’re not privileged.

Beverly Jenkins:    But because they’re not, does that mean that they don’t deserve love?  One of the things that I had to deal with when I first starting writing was African-American women did not read romance.  I understand why because we were not represented in any of the stories.  If we were represented, we were this like theater, we were in the back holding spears or something.  So, bringing them to the forefront and bringing their stories to the forefront, has been an eye-opener for a lot of women.  They can’t get enough, just like your aunt.

Norwood:  It’s a billion dollar industry now.

Beverly Jenkins:    Romance sells more books than mystery, science fiction, or westerns combined.

Norwood:   I read that.

Beverly Jenkins:    We pay the bills, we keep the lights on at all these publishing houses for all the rest of this “literary” fiction.  I’m proud to do what I do, because I write for the masses — so did people like Dickens, and so did people like Jane Austen, and so did people like Melville, who were very pooh-pooh’d when they were first published.  But we are the backbone of fiction at the publishing houses.

Laurie Kahn, who was one of the producers for Eyes On The Prize, is doing a documentary right now on romance writers in their communities — it’s called, Love Between The Covers.  She minds this community.  I mean, she talks about how much money romance generates.  The varied professions of these women — some of these women are physicians, some of them are lawyers, some of them are astrophysicists.  You know, it’s not that stereotype of we’re all living in trailer parks and we all write with crayons.

I think the documentary that she’s doing is going to be very, very important to bash a lot of those, and poke holes in a lot of those stereotypes that people think romance writers are and romance writing is.  She accompanied me and a group of my sister fans, who are now great friends of mine and a lot of my girlfriend, when I celebrated my 60th birthday last year in Charleston, we do history trips.  We went down and we saw the slave mine in Charleston, we saw the Boone Plantation — we did all this history, we were there for three of four days — and she was there.  I mean, Laurie was there with her crew.  My little part of it is called, Where We Walked, which goes back to me putting my stories where black folks actually walked.  So, she used our portion as part of her fundraising, and got a very good-sized grant from the National Endowment of Humanities, so that she continued to try and get this documentary filmed.

I think people who have — you know, this is not your mama’s romance, it’s not your mama’s romance novel, it’s not your mama’s romance writers.  Women are doing some great, great writing out there — proud to be, proud to be.

Norwood:  I think you’re doing a lot to uplift that genre because the literati has, for some time looked down upon romance fiction.

Beverly Jenkins:    Like I said, they think we write with crayons.  We don’t care — we’re just churning out the books and making The New York Times bestsellers list, and going about our business, and quietly laughing up our sleeves as we go to the bank every month.  It’s all good.

Norwood:   You’re teaching too, so that’s a nice way to open a lot of women’s eyes about our history.

Beverly Jenkins:    Yeah, it’s been a great journey.  I’m learning right along with my fans.  But I would not be who I am without all the great historians that my stories and my history’s based on — John Hope Franklin, Dorothy Sterling.  So yeah, there’s a bit in the back of my books too, so I’ve got a scholarly.

Norwood:    I want to talk about your props, because do you get into details about the different scenarios, like the clothing.

Beverly Jenkins:    Yeah, you have to be correct.  People will write you.  There’s a lot of people out there who are historians, who read your stuff.  I knew when I did Night Song, which was my very first book, based on the all-black towns in Kansas after the Great Exodus of 1879, that if I was going to present this story to the public, it had to be accurate.  So you wind up doing things like, what did they wear, what did they eat, how long does it take a train to go from Denver to Kansas City, where were the railroads, how were black people expected to act in public — all of those little things that all historical romance and historians do when you write fiction — you have to have it correct.  I mean, you can’t just make up stuff, because it doesn’t serve your story, it doesn’t serve you as a writer, and it doesn’t serve your readers.

Norwood:   Right, that’s one way to get rid of the suspension of disbelief when you come in with your facts all wrong.

Beverly Jenkins:    Yeah.  They used to call it “playing Goddess”, just moving stuff around.  Okay, well, I’m going to do this and just say this.  I don’t play Goddess, I don’t move rivers around, I don’t put people in situations that did not exist.  I’m going to give you the every day, what people dealt with in whatever setting my stories are based.

Norwood:   So grounding your settings in reality.

Beverly Jenkins:    Yeah, I mean, you have to if you’re going to have any kind of credibility.

Norwood:   I’ve seen some authors who have not done that.  When I see stuff that’s clearly historically inaccurate my first reaction is to sling the book across the room.

Beverly Jenkins:    Yeah, that’s what my mother called a “wall banger”, you throw it up against the wall.  I knew that this being the “first” African-American historical — Sandra Kitt did a book before mine called, Adam & Eva, that came out a few years before Night Song, but hers was — they were slaves.  So I knew that if I wanted to do our history as free people, that this book had to be stellar — that was the reason that you had the bibliography in the back, because I was getting all these questions, did black people really do this.  You know, are you kidding me?  I’m like, you see the bib list, look it up.

I also got pushback from some black people who were saying, well, you know — because I don’t write dialect — people said, well, black people didn’t talk this way.  I said, have you read any of the letters, have you read any of the speeches of the 19th century?  You know, that whole dialect thing is Hollywood.  If you get your history from Hollywood, you don’t know your history.  So, you have to be accurate not only with the details, but also with the syntax.

Norwood:  Let’s talk a little bit about your technique.  Describe your writing process and your revision process.

Beverly Jenkins:    Well, I revise as I write.  I may do a page-and-a-half, then go out and do something to take my mind away, load the dishwasher or whatever, and then come back and look at it again.  If I do that, then I can see the speed bumps.  Some people don’t revise as they’re writing; some people just go ahead and write that first draft, and then go back and do it.  But I revise as I go.  Once it’s turned in, of course, my editor will weigh in, which is great, because I’ve got great editors — I’ve been really, really blessed — I have great editors.  She’ll weigh in, and she’ll say, you know, look at this or look at that; most of the time we agree, sometimes we don’t.  But my house has enough faith in my writing that if I say, no, I think I’m going to keep that, they’ll go ahead and let me do that.

I am a stickler for trying to get it to sound right to me.  You know, I’ve got this thing and it’s crazy, that the Native-Americans when they’re doing a totem, they always say that the totem is already in the tree, it’s just if a carver is intuitive enough to take off the stuff that doesn’t belong there.  That’s how I look at writing.  The characters know the story, the story’s already on the page for them; but am I intuitive enough and open enough to take out the stuff that’s not supposed to be there, so that the story can come alive.

My characters talk in my head, I carry them around — a lot of writers say the same thing.  But I can look at a character after I’ve written and say, that’s not right, there’s no balance, they’re not supposed to speak that way.  For me, it’s a gift — for me to say anything else is for lightning bolts to hit my computer.  It’s not me, my stories come through me, not of me.

Norwood: I never looked at it like that, but in writing it’s sort of a metaphysical process.  I know what you mean — I’ve been there where the characters just sort of take over the story.

Beverly Jenkins:    Yeah, and they take you places where you don’t even know.  I did a book called, Always and Forever, and this brother was a U.S. Marshall down in Texas, and wound up having to run for his life and leave Texas, his father was killed and all this.  So he goes back to try and clear his name, and runs into the people who murdered his father, and he winds up being almost dragged to his death on the back of a wagon.  So his family tries to get him out of that town and get into a place where he can heal up.  He winds up going into the swamps of Texas — and I’m writing the story, and I’m like, there’s swamps in Texas?  I mean, the characters are taking over the story completely.  I had to stop, go get an Atlas and look — sure enough, there’s swamps all the way down the Texas/Louisiana border.  I did not know this — the characters knew it.

So you have to learn sometimes to trust your characters.  I had not planned on writing anything about this swamp, but there were people there that helped him that I didn’t know were going to be in the story.

I love what I do because of the excitement of sometimes not knowing what the story’s going to be.

Norwood:   Okay.  So writing for you is also a learning process.

Beverly Jenkins:    Yeah.  One of the great things about Romance Writers of America is that, you know, they can sort of — to codify a lot of stuff.  There are two types of writers:  There are plotters — people who plot everything from the very first word to the last word, and I have girlfriends who write that way; we also have pantsers — people who write by the seat of their pants — you’ve got sort of a plot, you’re not really sure what’s going on, but you go ahead and write it.  I’m a pantser — nothing gives me more joy than having something happen in the story that I didn’t see coming.  So, yeah, I’m a pantser, and I love it.

Norwood:   Well, thank you for this time.

Beverly Jenkins:    You are so welcome.

Norwood:   Before I let you go, tell us what’s coming up next.  Now, you said Night Hawk was three or four books back.

Beverly Jenkins:    Yeah, I’ve done a couple of books since then.  I have my Christian Women’s Fiction series, the Blessing Series, which has been an awesome addition to my work.  So I have the fourth book came out right after Night Hawk did; the fifth book will be out in 2014.  In fact, I got an email this morning from a gentleman who said he’s dyslexic, and he had never read for pleasure, but he was devouring these Blessing Series — that makes you smile when you get up in the morning and see an email like that.

What’s coming up next is my new series set in California — I’ve never had anything actually set in California, characters that come from California.  So this is what I call my Big Valley series — we’ve got a mom and three sons — all of these guys will get a book.  California’s got great African-American history, so a lot of the history in this first book.  One of the big gems is California’s the only state in the Union named after a black woman.  So I got to do a lot of the research on Queen Califia, who California is named after, which was fascinating to me because I knew a little bit about it, but I didn’t know all of it.

Norwood:   That’s the first time I’ve heard it.

Beverly Jenkins:    It’s real interesting, because she’s this — she’s mythical, of course.  But it was the 15th century Spanish book about her, and she was an Amazon, and she lived on this island of gold with these Amazon warriors and these battle-trained griffins.  People think that when the Spanish first started exploring the new world, they were looking for this island of gold – El Dorado and all that.  So, she has come to symbolize — you know, before the big European takeover of Mexico and all that — symbolizing all of the beauty and the productivity and the produce and all that of California.  There are murals of her in some of the older hotels in San Francisco.  Whoopi Goldberg did a thing for Disney with Whoopi as Queen Califia in Disney World.  They tore it down eventually and replaced it with a ride for the Little Mermaid.

But I’ve been able to explore that great history.  You’ll have to look her up, it’s amazing.  So the book is dedicated to her, and to my original crew in California.  So lots of stuff to come.

Norwood:   I think you’re going to be my readers to the history books.

Beverly Jenkins:    Well, you know, that’s great.  Oprah always says — how does she say it — anyway, for me, she said something about knowledge is whatever.  But for me — knowledge is — I can’t even remember what it is now.  But anyway, for me — share knowledge.  I mean, if you’ve got knowledge and you’re not sharing it, what good is it.  So, for me, shared knowledge and powers is all.

So run to your history books, look up Queen Califia, look up blacks and the 49ers and the Gold Rush, because that’s where I’m setting my book and I’m doing all that history.

Norwood: Thank you, Beverly.

Beverly Jenkins:    You’re very, very welcome.  Looking forward to seeing you sometime in the future.

You can find out more about the works of Beverly Jenkins at www.beverlyjenkins.net.

Poet and hip hop artist MV hits his mark

August 19, 2012 

Michael Victor Whatley, Jr., also known as MV, a rising poet, hip hop artist and playwright, was recently on the streets selling advanced copies of his self- published book of poetry Trying To Be Grown and caught the attention of Washington Post reporter Peter Hermann.  Profiled as a curios oddity, an “out of the ghetto” success story, the Post headline touted Former D.C. rec-league star turns to poetry to escape urban neighborhood and crime.  It is debatable whether MV’s biography represents an escape, moreover it’s a narrative illustrating a young man rising above environment discovering his talent and building upon it with self-reliance and discipline.

A DC native MV is a Speech and Theater major entering his senior year at Tennessee State University in Nashville.  He is one of many fortunate young men who thrive despite the adversity and crippling influences associated with growing up in the inner city.  Like most young men MV was drawn to sports hanging out at the Rosedale rec where he earned a reputation as an accomplished athlete.  At the same he was developing another interest in the written word.  He credits football with distracting him from being sucked into the street life and the neighborhood drug trade. Thanks to his aunt, grandmother and vigilant parental guidance that other interest ultimately held sway over his life and future.

At age 21 MV stands 5’7’, 125 pounds with a slight build, a brilliant smile, inquisitive eyes, and a gregarious and engaging personality all of which makes him more suitable for the stage than grid iron.  While his brief biography may be of interest it is his growing body of compelling work that deserves more scrutiny.  It reveals the essence of MV going about the business of an artist mastering his craft.  He speaks of the influences of Mos Def who rose from hip hop to stage and screen and a particular affinity for the most notable and influential rapper Nas.  MV’s book of poems Trying to Be Grown captures the experience of the young urban black male coming of age and undergoing the sometimes perilous transformation into manhood.  He speaks of loneliness, love and lust while trying to find his place in the world.  His poetic voice is tender and vulnerable at times introverted and deeply personal alternating to the outspoken and combative critical of the world around him.

Like poetry his music captures in form and feeling the hip hop genre’s elements of story-telling, subject matter, creativity, word play, metaphors, and delivery.  At this stage in his development–a raw talent undergoing maturation he’s moving towards mastering the art form.  While his work is sometimes punctuated with the raw underground qualities of the profane and the sexually explicit he is evolving toward a more artistic and sublime sound.  That evolution is evidenced on his Youtube channel mikemvw21.  Rhythmic hypnotic sounds abound on his new mixed tape titled Vol. 7.  Pride scheduled to drop September 7th at Datpiff.com.  Already a number of singles are generating buzz including Desperately WaitingOn my job, and Makes a songTrying to Be Grown is also scheduled to become available on Amazon September 7th.  MV has already attracted the attention of some major recording labels and hopes to break out in the near feature.  Meanwhile his play The Good Die Young expects will be staged by a university troupe this academic year.

With entrepreneurial hustle MV is following in the foot steps and tradition of great Black poets like the young playwright and poet Langston Hughes who made his mark self-publishing and self peddling his works as well.  MV is enthusiastically taking on the challenge of marketing and building a platform necessary for today’s digital market.

MV returned to his old neighborhood this summer greeted like a hometown celebrity by proud friends and family.  And to hear him talk, his native Rosedale and DC are forever with him–having never escaped, but away only a sabbatical.

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